Fashion's Go-To Photographer Dishes on How to Take Images That Matter

Rihanna - Publicity - P 2016
Billy Farrell/

Rihanna - Publicity - P 2016

Hint: It starts with a really great party filled with a lot of famous faces.

When photographers Billy Farrell, Neil Rasmus, Joe Schildhorn and David X Prutting broke away from the company created by iconic New York City shutterbug Patrick McMullan to start their own photo agency in 2010, it was big news. That's actually putting it quite simply — even The New York Times covered the exodus and subsequent launch of the Billy Farrell Agency, which is well-known nearly six years later as BFA.

Now, BFA is breaking a bit more news that could have a lasting impact on the party/fashion/social landscape of the West Coast. Farrell is expanding their agency and opening an office in Los Angeles and the affable photographer (and his new wife) are planting down semi-permanent roots here. (Sidenote: If you want to see what photos of photographer Farrell's wedding looks like in Vogue, click here.)

Farrell tells Pret-a-Reporter that he's in the process of securing office space and is expected to live in L.A. by late spring. The BFA team, which consists of upwards of 40 photographers who shoot everything from bashes for luxury clients like Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton to events like the Met Ball (where they are the exclusive photo agency allowed inside), will continue to straddle both coasts. But expect BFA and Farrell to make their presence even more known in the City of Angels very soon.

PARTY OF FOUR: BFA co-founders (left to right) Neil Rasmus, Bill Farrell, Joe Schildhorn and David X Prutting.

He already gets how things work in Hollywood, where everyone knows that judgment resides in the results of your last big project. "You're only as good as your last party," he laughs. "That’s what we try to do at BFA, we try to enhance the quality and care for the picture. It's about how the images look, because they will live on forever."

But for Farrell, Rasmus, Schildhorn and Prutting that means they're only as good as the photos of their last party. A focus of their company has been taking "images that matter," Farrell notes. And on that note, we asked him to select some recent pics during BFA's run and describe the stories behind the stills.

What Farrell says: "This is a great selfie moment with Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz and Miley. This moment is indicative of the times we are in now. I don’t know the backstory of how they know each other ... but I just like the fact that you've got this powerful music legend in between these two gals who probably would love nothing more than to be looked at in the same light down the road as their careers advance."

What Farrell means: Even superstars love selfies ... and legendary status.

What Farrell says: "I think this was the first time Kanye and Kim were photographed together, in Paris in 2012 after Kanye's big show. They did a Go-Kart race and it broke in the press shortly after that they were dating."

What Farrell means: Even with helmets, you can't deny that Kim and Kanye are flashbulb magnets with major star power.

What Farrell says: This is Mick Jagger and Drew Barrymore and I love the way she’s embracing him, like he's Uncle Mick. You may not think of them having an association but it’s true for a many people in Hollywood or people who exist in this world of fame, they tend to know each other one way or another. 

What Farrell means: Famous people travel in circles filled with other famous friends.

What Farrell says: Here is Cate Blanchett with Jack White and she, for some reason, decided to put up this napkin on her face like a bandit. She's really having fun with it. I really liked it; it's one of my favorite photographs. It's also random that Cate Blanchett and Jack White would be sitting next to one another. I love it.

What Farrell means: Cate Blanchett is really the coolest actress on the planet.

What Farrell says: "This is a really funny one because I love how Kate Moss and Carine Roitfeld are just natural, but then there are a couple of people in the background like Adrien Brody and Johan Lindeberg having a conversation. It's why we never like to crop too tightly on photos. The background sometimes can be just as interesting."

What Farrell means: Always look more closely.

What Farrell says: "This is Michael Kors at his own party, waiting his turn to walk the red carpet, like some starlet. I've been photographing Michael for a very long time, and I noticed that he was just standing there. If you're a photographer and you're just standing there doing nothing, you're not doing your job. So I said, 'Hey, Michael, let's take a picture.' It's a nice moment."

What Farrell means: Seize the moment, and don't get caught just standing there.

What Farrell says: "If you went to Coachella then you looked up at this thing ... It's something like two stories tall and rolls through the grounds. This was straight out of camera — I didn't photoshop it at all. Just thought it was such a fantastic lightening scheme. It’s huge, the crowd is down below and I just looked up and shot it."

What Farrell means: Don't forget to look up. 

What Farrell says: "This is Naomi Campbell, Donatella Versace and Jennifer Hudson at Anthony Vaccarello versus Versace party in 2014. Naomi carries this aura with her wherever she goes, and here you have two fashion gods with an Oscar and Grammy winner who is fabulous. Naomi is smoking a cigarette because she does whatever she wants. We had to photoshop it out because we don’t like to condone smoking and whenever possible we get rid of it. A lot of magazines won’t run pictures of smoking either, so we didn’t want that photo to go out there, that’s another reason. I don’t care if people know that we photoshopped it out because it’s for the greater good."

What Farrell means: No translation necessary.

What Farrell says: "This is a great moment from Oscar week during the Dolce & Gabbana Pajama Party at Chateau Marmont. I had never met Juno Temple before, but now I know who she is because I watched the show Vinyl. She's a superstar and as you can tell by this photo. All I said to her was, “Hey, Juno, could you do a quick picture in front of fireplace?” She jumped on top of this velvet ottoman and does this pose. She's feeling it from within, you can tell, and it's a fun, great moment that lasted five seconds and she was off to the party." 

What Farrell means: Find the rising star in the room and watch them do their thing.

What Farrell says: "I took this photo of Jessica Biel at a party for Tiffany & Co. when they were presenting their Atlas collection in 2014. I broke out the long lens, which I wasn’t going to bring at first. I noticed that the light was so perfect and with the background of Hollywood behind her that we should try it out. This is an example of what happens when you turn your flash off and try and elevate the moment. She was a real sweetheart."

What Farrell means: Never be afraid to improvise.